Friday, August 8, 2008

Funny Face

Outside St. Patrick’s, a middle-aged European man stopped me, just bounding out of nowhere, urgency in his stride.

He declared with an accent thicker than the humidity, “You are lucky.”

I said, “Uh….why?

“You have a funny face,” he remarked.

Is it better not to question when someone leaps into your life outside a mystical Catholic Cathedral to proclaim you lucky? (Especially a foreigner carrying Euros and therefore more powerful? Even when he may be disparaging your looks?) In the shadows of St. Pattie's, do you just goeth forth with it, as if he's the Pope undercover, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy accepting your funny face and making your own luck and good fortune?

Curiosity can take over. It doesn’t get more personal than your face. There are magazines in New York City currently splashing Madonna's mug on the cover, asking just what type of high-priced, high-tech work she's getting to create a softer, heart shaped look. I naturally craved an understanding of what he meant about my own face. Was my mug funny in a ha-ha, Jim Carey sort of way? Or funny in a disturbing, train-wreckish, Elephant Man, you-have-no-choice-but-to-look-because-it-is-so-grotesque kind of way?

Mostly, I don’t do sudden stop-and-chats with hard-to-understand strangers in odd footwear, because, well, when does the opportunity present itself? Plus, one of this odd man's surprisingly smooth and cool hands, like porcelain made human, was shaking mine, but the other was rigidly fixed in his pocket as if cradling a box cutter. That model Marla something who dated the guy who wrote Bright Lights Big City then faded away turned her incredibly horrific face-slashing into fame and fortune. I just don’t have the cheekbones for that. Nor the sense of introspection. I’d never make it to Oprah’s couch. I’d wind up spending my full waking hours on less cushiony seats in Irish bars like Foley's, where I just had lunch. Nobody wants to enjoy your face, but everybody knows your name. Things could be worse.

Man, in that fleeting instant, on the hot glistening pavement surrounded by tourists and students out of school, cops and construction workers and mailroom clerks and overpaid businesspeople, I wanted to hear what exactly made my face so conspicuously funny. Had I been sucking on the back of a (leaky) felt-tipped pen and strolling about town with blue lips? Did I again forget to take off my telephone headset before venturing outside, looking like an escapee from the Burger King drive thru? Did I again forget my fake tooth in the glass next to my computer? If not, if all things were normal -- as routinely ordinary in an unmarked state as my own face can be -- perhaps I should have asked, “Do I ah-MYOOS you?” in a nasal menacing south-side-of-Chicago Joe Pesci voice.

But I was no match. The hand in pocket was quivering, and the stranger’s eyes were widening in loony intensity, like the gloriously evil face of Charlie Manson when he get gets a chance to go on Dateline every 10 years.

Curiosity only goes so far.

“Wow, terrific, thanks,” I muttered. I let go of the stranger’s hand, and walked my funny face back to the office.

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